Best to ease into retirement when writers need your help

NEWLY RETIRED SYLVIA COOPER SAYS: "I'm not really here, anymore. But they still call me up and ask questions. You can't just pick up and move and take everything after 18 years on the job. I left a lot of background notes on my computer and they're still trying to find them.


"That's where Mr. (Bill) Kirby, my metro editor, says he discovered I get daily e-mails from a service that provides horoscopes for my dogs.

"He is too much of a gentleman to question the mental faculties of someone who subscribes to dog horoscopes, but I could tell he has his suspicions. I reminded him that he loves his dog, too.

"Mr. Kirby was kind enough to act like that was an appropriate answer, and even asked how he might sign up for dog horoscopes, but I don't think he will.

"So far, retirement has been great. They even threw a party for me Friday and I got a proclamation from the mayor, and a lot of people came and we all had refreshments and told stories.

"That's the great thing about retirement -- all the nice things people say about you. Shoot, if I thought they meant it, I'd hang around.

"But then I guess we all know that's what people say when they are either happy for you, or happy to see you go.

"Somebody called up and asked where I was, and I said, 'Died and gone to Thomson.'

"It might not be Heaven, but I think you can see it from here."

Setting the bar high: There was a gasp, then loud cheers Monday night when Richmond County Superintendent Dana Bedden took the stage at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School.

A former P.E. teacher, Dr. Bedden ignored the steps and simply leaped to the stage.

This proved a tough act to follow for Andy Hauger , the chairman of Augusta State University's Department of Chemistry and Physics, but he leapt to the stage also.

Dr. Bedden and Dr. Hauger said they were showing their enthusiasm for the work being done by the magnet school.

Other speakers said they shared that enthusiasm but took the steps at the side of the stage.

FEARSOME FOURSOME: Four Augusta commissioners voted against the budget Tuesday.

One of them, Jerry Brigham , said afterward it was because the 2009 budget wasn't conservative enough. He said he thought commissioners wanted to scale back, but then when they started adding stuff back in, it irritated him. He didn't like the "we can do that, we can do that, we can do that" tone of the meeting.

He said he also doesn't agree with dipping into reserves for $1 million. He said more stuff should be cut.

Another dissenter, Don Grantham , said he didn't appreciate denying the Augusta Museum of History more than $100,000, nor cutting the Augusta Arts Council by $25,000 for the benefit of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.

TAKE A SEAT, ANDY: Former Commissioner Andy Cheek wanted to talk about the Augusta Canal at Tuesday's commission meeting. Some of his former colleagues wouldn't let him.

Mr. Cheek said he wanted to talk about next year's canal draining and the "absence of information" about whether the Utilities department plans to clean up silt and downed trees while the water is gone. He turned in his request to be put on the commission agenda on time, but it wound up on City Clerk Lena Bonner's chair while she was off and didn't make it onto the written agenda.

That meant the only way for him to be allowed to speak was if the commission voted unanimously to allow it. Mr. Grantham, Jimmy Smith and Alvin Mason voted no, with Calvin Holland abstaining.

Mr. Cheek said hard feelings remain over various issues that came up when he was on the board. Mr. Smith is "bitter," Mr. Cheek said, and Mr. Mason is trying to curry favor with the others.

Mr. Grantham said he voted no because he'd heard Mr. Cheek's spiel the week before at a special purpose sales tax town hall meeting, when he told attendees there's more than $3 million in the Utilities Department's budget that can be used to clean the canal and Lake Olmstead. Mr. Grantham said he's not sure that's correct, and he didn't want Mr. Cheek putting out false information.

No worries, Mr. Cheek said. He'll be on the agenda for the Dec. 2 meeting.

"I enjoyed kicking their butts for seven of my eight years, so it's OK," Mr. Cheek said, explaining he was a little off his game in his final year on the commission.

KEEPING BUSY: During his time as chairman of the Georgua Department of Transportation board, Augusta's Bill Kuhlke has overseen a plan to fix a massive deficit and a controversy over alleged conflicts of interest and some romantically risque e-mails by Commissioner Gena Evans .

Now, he and his colleagues have planned something even more ambitious: Getting the Georgia General Assembly to approve an increase in pay for DOT board members. But not just a boost in the per diem rate earned by board members. The agency is considering asking that board members be reimbursed for more than the 60 days currently provided for in the law.

"I think we spend more than 60 days. ... We've got a board that's involved," Mr. Kuhlke said.

Left unsaid: Many of those extra days came from resolving the deficit and dealing with the resignations of two of Mr. Kuhlke's predecessors.

MS. 13 GRAND, ESQ.: At an Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority Marketing, Entertainment & Public Relations Committee meeting Thursday, the new chairman, Johnny Hensley , suggested ways the authority could clean up its image, such as members helping with the James Brown turkey giveaway or working at soup kitchens during the holidays.

Judging by The Augusta Chronicle's online readers' comments, a better starting place might be to convince attorney Evita Paschall to refund some of the $13,000 she was paid by the authority to defend member William Fennoy against a simple battery charge arising from his brawl with activist Woody Merry .

The authority essentially gave her a blank check when it approved paying her, and she ran up the sum after a probable cause hearing and from visiting the crime scene, interviewing witnesses and "extensive research," according to her bill. The case was resolved Monday without a trial, with Mr. Merry's simple battery charge being dead docketed and Mr. Fennoy's charge dismissed.

Chronicle reporters Sylvia Cooper and Sandy Hodson already established that $13,000 is an exorbitant sum for defending a misdemeanor charge, pointing out that the lead defense attorney for rapist-serial killer Reinaldo Rivera charged the city only $15,000.

SMOKE-FILLED ROOMS: Thursday was the Great American Smokeout and also the day that University Hospital began its tobacco-free campus policy. That prompted longtime board member Levi Hill III to recall his first hospital board meeting in 1980. He walked into the board room and "there was an ashtray in front of every chair," he told fellow board members last week.

"Oh good," Mr. Hill said, settling into a chair and putting a pack of cigarettes on the table. Every doctor and nurse that subsequently walked into the room gave him the eye, he said.

After the meeting, he was flooded with calls asking him when he was planning on giving up smoking.

"That's when I quit," he said. "So you did me a lot of good."

And it may have had an even broader impact.

"The next meeting," Mr. Hill said, "there were no ashtrays."

HE SAID WHAT? State Sen. Eric Johnson , of Savannah, spoke Tuesday at the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Pre-legislative Breakfast about how much easier Georgia politics are compared to his home state of Louisiana:

"Half the state is under water, and the other half is under indictment," he said.

Staff Writers Johnny Edwards, Donnie Fetter, Greg Gelpi, Walter Jones and Staff Retiree Sylvia Cooper contributed to this column.

Mayors poem

Check out the poem Mayor Deke Copenhaver wrote and recited for Sylvia Cooper at her retirement reception.